First Greater Manchester

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First Greater Manchester
First Manchester 33695 SN12AGZ (8686845660).jpg
LocaleNorth West England
Service areaGreater Manchester (some services overlap into other counties)
Service typeBus services
Fleet195 (April 2020)

First Greater Manchester[1] is a bus operator in Greater Manchester. It is a subsidiary of FirstGroup. It was once a major operator in the northern areas of the county competing against Stagecoach Manchester which was dominant in southern areas of the county; however in recent years it has massively scaled back its operations. It now primarily serves north eastern suburbs of Manchester, and the metropolitan boroughs of Oldham and Rochdale whilst Diamond North West and Go North West have bought up some of the company's previous depots.


Optare Prisma bodied Mercedes-Benz O405 on route 24 in Manchester in July 2008
Northern Counties Palatine bodied Volvo Olympian on route 93 in Bury in May 2008
Wright Endurance bodied Volvo B10B on route 510 in Bury in June 2008
Scania OmniCity articulated on route 135 in Bury in July 2007
Optare Versa on Metroshuttle route 3 in May 2011

A timeline overview of public transport in Manchester, prior to 1993, is given here.

Before deregulation in 1986, buses in the Greater Manchester area were publicly funded and went under the name of Greater Manchester Transport. In 1986 Greater Manchester Transport became known as GM Buses, which was owned by the metropolitan borough and city councils of Greater Manchester, but were at arms' length from the local town halls.

In December 1993 GM Buses was split in two, GM Buses North[1] and GM Buses South.[2] It was planned that the two companies would compete against one another, but in reality they stuck to the sides of Manchester as indicated by their names.

In April 1994 GM Buses North was sold to a management buyout. By this stage many competitors were operating GM Buses routes following deregulation. In March 1996 GM Buses North was sold to FirstBus and rebranded First Manchester. After a period of experimentation with the livery, an orange livery was adopted.

First Manchester soon ended up managing two other FirstBus subsidiaries, First Potteries and First Pennine. That even included many GM Standard Leyland Atlanteans making their way to those two fleets. Eventually the First Pennine and Manchester subsidiaries were merged, adding a number of routes in the Tameside area to First Manchester. A new management team was put in place and First Manchester was relieved of its responsibility for the Potteries subsidiary.

Various depots have been closed over the past 12 years including Atherton (1998), Bolton Crook Street (2004) (replaced by a new depot at Weston Street), Knowsley (2008), Rochdale (2004) and Trafford Park (2005) sites at Lowton, Bolton and Manchester Piccadilly have also been used temporarily for either acquired fleet (Lowton/Bolton) in 1998 or for the Commonwealth Games in 2002 (Manchester Piccadilly).

As of September 2010 First Manchester has taken over the management of the Cheshire and Merseyside depots of First Potteries with the Staffordshire depots transferring to the management of the new First Midlands division. The Cheshire and Merseyside depots fell to a First Manchester licence. In February 2012, the company came under fire from Department for Transport North West's traffic commissioner after a performance survey found an average of 26% of First Manchester services were not running on time.[3] The company were fined £285,000 in March 2012 for their poor reliability.[4]

In Spring 2012 First Manchester was rebranded as First Greater Manchester. In June 2012, it was announced that FirstGroup were looking at selling off some of its operations, which included First Manchester's Wigan depot.[5] On 2 December 2012, Stagecoach Manchester purchased the Wigan operation.[6][7] The transaction saw 300 employees, 120 vehicles (although 20 were owned by Transport for Greater Manchester) and the Wigan depot purchased by the former A Mayne & Son legal entity.[8][9]

On 1 August 2013, FirstGroup announced that subject to regulatory approval by the Office of Fair Trading, it had agreed to purchase the bus operations of south Manchester based company Finglands Coachways.[10] The purchase included the lease of Finglands's depot in Rusholme, South Manchester routes and approximately 100 members of staff, but no buses.[11][12] The deal was approved on 27 January 2014[13] with First taking over Finglands services on 9 February 2014.[14]

The Queens Road depot in Cheetham Hill was taken over by Go North West on 2 June 2019 with 25 routes and 163 buses.[15][16][17][18] The Bolton depot was taken over by Diamond Bus North West on 11 August 2019 with 18 routes and 125 buses.[19][20][21]


In April 2017 Bury and Tameside depots closed with operations transferred to Bolton, Queens Road and Oldham depots.[22]

In January 2019 Rusholme depot, which was acquired as part of the Finglands purchase, closed with services 41 (Sale to Piccadilly Gardens) and 53 (Cheetham Hill to Salford Shopping City) transferred across to Queens Road Depot. The fleet of ADL Enviro 400s and Wright Streetlites were allocated elsewhere within Greater Manchester..[23][24]

In June 2019, the Queens Road depot was taken over by Go North West with 163 buses.[25][26][27]

In August 2019, the Bolton depot was taken over by Diamond Bus North West.[20][21]


As at April 2020, the fleet consisted of 195 buses and coaches. Over half are Volvos.

Articulated buses[edit]

First Greater Manchester followed the lead of Travel West Midlands in using low-floor articulated buses with the delivery in 1998/99 of 15 Wright Fusion bodied Volvo B10LAs.[citation needed]

Double-deck buses[edit]

The Wright Eclipse Gemini is now the most numerous vehicle type in the fleet ahead of the newer 2012/14 registered Alexander Dennis Enviro 400’s which have took the unusual decision to choose the Eclipse Geminis over their Enviro 400’s and have been transferred to other first bus operators and have loaned some vehicles to Diamond North West.All of the Enviro 400’s and Gemini eclipse are now owned by Go North West following their purchase of the Queens Road Depot in 2019.[citation needed]

Previously when the company first started in 1996, the standard double-deck buses were Standard Leyland Atlanteans and MCW Metrobuses from the early 1980s which were prominent in the Manchester area before First Manchester existed, as well as the Northern Counties bodied Metrobuses which GM Buses had since 1986, and they would be a mainstay in the fleet. These buses were being pulled out of service and gradually all were withdrawn from the fleet by 2006.[citation needed]

Single-deck buses[edit]

The Single-deck fleet consist of 30 Alexander Dennis Enviro300’s registered in 2013 and Wright Eclipse busses registered in 2005/06/11 and 13.First Manchester used to operate Wright streetLites but have been either transferred to First West Yorkshire and First York or have been taken over by Go North West. Wright Renown bodied Volvo B10BLEs and Mercedes-Benz Citaros have now all been withdrawn, with one Citaro having been preserved and some of the Renowns now being used as Driver Training Vehicles along with the Wright Endurance bodied Volvo B10Bs

One Wright Eclipse bodied Volvo B7L (MV02 VCN) from Manchester's original batch that operated shuttle services for the Commonwealth games in 2002 also returned to the fleet at Bolton depot for a brief stint before being withdrawn and converted into another Driver Training vehicle.


These are primarily Plaxton Pointer or Marshall bodied Dennis Dart SLFs operated out of Oldham depot.


A small fleet of minibuses is operated on Metroshuttle contracts and one or two other routes based on Manchester, Oldham and Dukinfield depots. The entire minibus fleet consists of Optare Solo integral models.

Ancillary Vehicles[edit]

The support fleet is quite a varied one and consists mostly of Volvo B10B/B10BLE driver training buses with Wright Endurance/Renown bodies. A large fleet of vans and pick-ups are operated, these are usually Vauxhall Combos or Corsas (smaller vans) or Ford Transits (bigger vans and pick-ups). Also owned are various fork lift trucks, and garage floor cleaning equipment known as 'Floor Scrubbers'.


First Greater Manchester mainly run services in central Manchester and the north eastern area of Greater Manchester including Oldham, Rochdale and parts of Tameside.

First also operate services in the Wigan area, although following the sale of the Wigan depot to Stagecoach Manchester in December 2012, First only serve Astley, Atherton, Leigh and Tyldesley with the V1 & V2 Services that use the Leigh Guided Busway and the A580; these services are marketed as Vantage.


First Greater Manchester operated the three Metroshuttle services that operate around Manchester city centre. These services are free for passengers.


On 3 April 2016, First Greater Manchester commenced operating services on the 4.5 mile North West Guided busway between Leigh and Ellenbrook under the Vantage brand.[28][29]

Route branding[edit]

Wright Eclipse Gemini bodied Volvo B9TL showing the old branding used for Overground service 8 in September 2010
Alexander Dennis Enviro400 showing the new branding used for services 36 and 37 in April 2013

First Greater Manchester originally branded their frequent services as an Overground. Based on the London Underground network where each frequent service is given a recognisable colour, each Overground service was also allocated its own colour line. The concept was a prominent fixture on network maps and coloured vinyls applied to the buses frequently serving those routes. However, the brand has largely been dropped. The colours still remain on network maps but the vinyls for the most part have disappeared from the fleet's vehicles. The coloured routes are those with Monday - Saturday daytime frequencies of 15 minutes or better.[30] This has allowed services such as the 67, 98, 519, 540 and 598 to keep their coloured line despite the frequency of the service dropping under the 10 minutes minimum frequency.

Usually, the colours are allocated randomly. However, the 180/184 was allocated the Purple line when the services were made into an Overground route in 2004 and the 184 was extended to Huddersfield replacing service 365. The extension also saw the 184 service incorporated into the Huddersfield Overground with services 348, 350 and 352 (which were later replaced by routes 181, 182, 183 and 185 to fit in with the 184) already branded as the Purple line (as had the 365 previously).[citation needed]

Due to ongoing fleet modernisation most Overground services are currently unbranded, with only the 36/37, 180/184, 409, 471 and 582 having significant route branding. Route 100 was previously branded as "unmissable", route X34 branded as "Spinning Jenny" and route X35 as "Flying Shuttle", rather than with a colour line.[citation needed]

Heritage liveries[edit]

Wright Eclipse Gemini bodied Volvo B9TL in replica Lancashire United Transport livery in November 2013

In 2013, First Greater Manchester repainted eight buses into the liveries of former transport companies to create a heritage fleet across their operating areas, which acknowledges the preceding companies that would eventually become First Greater Manchester.

Three Volvo B7RLEs were painted into the liveries of Bolton Corporation Transport, Oldham Corporation and Ramsbottom Urban District Council, while five Volvo B9TLs were painted into liveries of Bury Corporation, Manchester City Transport, Rochdale Corporation, Salford City Transport and Lancashire United Transport.

Overground Link[edit]

In Spring 2006, First Manchester re-routed its 67 service between Cadishead and Manchester to run direct along Liverpool Road during the day. This was designed to speed up the service running between Eccles and Cadishead. As a result, buses were withdrawn from running via Merlin Road and surrounding areas in Irlam. To help passengers, First introduced OvergroundLink, which is described by First as a feeder service.

The 67L service, which uses a small bus or vehicles with low floor access for wheelchairs and pushchairs, runs a clockwise circular service from the White Lion pub on Liverpool Road, running via Cutnook Lane, Merlin Road, Morillon Road and Silver Street, returning to the White Lion, where the service connects with the 67. The service takes 5 minutes to complete its route and runs Mondays to Saturdays with a frequency of every 10 minutes from 06:40 (08:00 on Saturdays) until 19:00.

This service was the first one introduced by First and ran until 2010 when it was replaced by the 100 service. Other attempts were not so successful. Another 67L service was introduced in July 2006 to serve the Brookhouse estate. The service was designed so that passenger could board or alight the bus at any point along the route in Brookhouse, also known as 'Hail and Ride' before alighting the service at the Unicorn pub in Peel Green to connect with the 67. This service was withdrawn in January 2007. The main reason for the service not succeeding is probably down to the fact that the estate is served by the 10, which was run by First, and the M10, which was run by Arriva. Both services run services from Brookhouse to Manchester without the need to change buses, the M10 has been withdrawn and the 10 is now run by Arriva, there is also an early morning and night service 63 operated by First.

Another OvergroundLink service was introduced in July 2006 and withdrawn in January 2007 was the 98L. This was designed to link up with the 98 service running between Bury and Manchester on Bury New Road at the junction with Butterstile Lane. The 98L would operate around the Carr Clough area using Hail and Ride. Like the 67L Brookhouse service, the 98L was probably withdrawn because another service already links Carr Clough and Manchester, the 93 which ran between Bury and Manchester now it only runs between Carr Clough and Manchester.

In April 2007, First introduced the 598L, which was introduced when First replaced its 593 daytime service with a new Overground route, the 598. However, while the 593 ran via Castle Hill and Belle Green, the 598 runs direct between Hindley Green and Wigan. Castle Hill was still served by the 540, whose frequency increased from every 30 minutes to every 10 minutes and the 32 was re-routed to serve Castle Hill, the 598L was withdrawn in 2009 and replaced by rerouted 598 buses directly serving the Estate.

In May 2007, First introduced another 67L service in Irlam. Starting at the White Lion, the service runs via Fiddlers Lane, Mond Road, Princes Avenue, Addison Road and Liverpool Road to the White Lion. The service was re-routed at the end of July 2007 to run via Boundary Road instead of Princes Avenue and Addison Road. This route was withdrawn at the end of August 2007. Another 67L route was introduced on 2 September 2007 running via Liverpool Road, Vicarage Road, School Lane, Parkston Road, Cutnook Lane and Silver Street.

In August 2008, service 67L was extended to serve the local Tesco superstore in Irlam with buses running to the store between 9.45 am and 2.45 pm, whilst reducing the number of journeys running around Irlam from every 10 minutes to every 30 minutes. The link was withdrawn in January 2010, when the 67L was withdrawn and replaced by a re-routed 100 service, which would cover the route. The withdrawal saw the end of the Overground Link services.


First Greater Manchester offer several night bus services in Manchester every Friday and Saturday night to help people get home from a night out. The routes are mainly the same as the normal routes with some exceptions. Services 8, 17 and 67, which during the day start from Shudehill Interchange, start their journeys from Piccadilly Gardens. Services 82 and 135 leave from different stands in Piccadilly Gardens, with the 82 leaving from stand D instead of stand A, while the 135 leaves from stand N instead of stand E. The 135 also serves Shudehill, which it doesn't do during the day, while the 67 doesn't serve Shudehill.

The services run every 30 minutes or every hour from midnight to 3am. The fare system on the night bus services is different from the normal fares offered by First, as there is only a flat fare offered. For passengers travelling from Wigan, the price is £2.00 while in Manchester, it is £3.00. A FirstNight ticket is priced at £4.50 for passengers who uses the Nightbus in both directions.

Until December 2012, First also operated the Nightbus network in Wigan town centre, providing a number of services to the various area in the Wigan area plus the 598 to Leigh, which allowed connection with the 39 to/from Manchester. The services were mainly a replicated route of its normal services with a few exceptions. The 600 normally runs from Wigan to Leigh while the night bus runs a circular service to Ashton-in-Makerfield before returning to Wigan via Platt Bridge. The 629 Nightbus service was based on the former daytime service between Wigan and Castle Hill. The 631 & 632, which normally run circular services from Wigan to Highfield Grange are re-routed to serve Pemberton and Hawkley Hall. The 635, normally run by South Lancs Travel from Wigan to Shevington Vale, while First's night bus service 635 runs a circular service to Shevington, Shevington Moor and Standish. The 695 service, which was not based on any First route, ran to Upholland along Arriva North West's 375/385/395 route.

From 2 December 2012, the Wigan Nightbus network passed to Stagecoach Manchester with First Manchester's Wigan business.

In Spring 2016, the number 8N was withdrawn due to poor passenger numbers.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Companies House extract company no 2818607 First Manchester Limited formerly Greater Manchester Buses North Limited
  2. ^ Companies House extract company no 2818654 Greater Manchester Buses South Limited
  3. ^ "Bus firm First slammed by transport watchdog over unreliable services". Manchester Evening News. 7 February 2012. Retrieved 4 April 2012.
  4. ^ "Bus firm First fined £285k by transport watchdog after one in four services run late". Manchester Evening News. 13 March 2012. Retrieved 4 April 2012.
  5. ^ "First seeks buyers for seven bus operations". Passenger Transport. 28 June 2012. Retrieved 3 November 2012.
  6. ^ Stagecoach buys FirstGroup's Wigan bus arm for £12 million BBC News 31 October 2012
  7. ^ Acquisition of Wigan Bus Operations from First Manchester Stagecoach 31 October 2012
  8. ^ Companies House extract company no 308157 Greater Manchester Buses West Limited formerly A Mayne & Son Limited
  9. ^ McCollom, James (31 October 2012). "Stagecoach to acquire First routes in Wigan". Manchester Transport. Retrieved 3 November 2012.
  10. ^ Companies House extract company no 243051 Finglands Coachways Limited
  11. ^ "FirstGroup plc Agree To Acquire Finglands Bus Operations In Manchester". First Group. 1 August 2013. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
  12. ^ Jobs saved as famous bus firm gears up for takeover Manchester Evening News 2 August 2013
  13. ^ "PRESS RELEASE - First given OFT approval to acquire Finglands bus operations in Manchester". First Group. 27 January 2014. Retrieved 9 February 2014.
  14. ^ "First take over Finglands bus services". Transport for Greater Manchester. 7 February 2014. Retrieved 9 February 2014.
  15. ^ "First Manchester Queens Road bus depot". Retrieved 24 February 2019.
  16. ^ About Us Go North West
  17. ^ Timetables Go North West
  18. ^ Bus service changes Transport for Greater Manchester
  19. ^ Acquisition in Manchester Rotala 27 June 2019
  20. ^ a b Diamond North West services are expanding Diamond Bus North West 25 July 2019
  21. ^ a b Diamond Bus North West takesf over First Manchester depot this Sunday Coach & Bus Week issue 1405 6 August 2019 page 6
  22. ^ First to close two bus depots in Greater Manchester Manchester Evening News 5 December 2016
  23. ^ First Manchester announces proposal to close Rusholme depot ''FleetPoint 29 October 2018
  24. ^ First to close Rusholme, gives up Turners route Buses January 2019 page 9
  25. ^ Go-Ahead agrees terms with FirstGroup to purchase Manchester bus depot Go-Ahead Group 19 February 2019
  26. ^ First Manchester sells Queens Road depot to Go-Ahead Coach & Bus Week 19 February 2019
  27. ^ First Manchester are selling 160 buses and their Cheetham Hill depot for £11.2 million Manchester Evening News 19 February 2019
  28. ^ Guided busway on track for first passengers Transport for Greater Manchester 15 February 2016
  29. ^ North West's first guided busway welcomes first passengers FirstGroup 29 March 2016
  30. ^ "First Manchester High Frequency Network map" (PDF). First Group. Retrieved 23 January 2010.

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